Have you ever felt a burning sensation in your breasts? It can be quite distressing. But, rest assured, you’re far from alone! In fact, millions of women experience this symptom on an annual basis – making it one of the most prevailing indicators for breast health concerns. Let’s elaborate on the cause of that burning pain in breast, including its related symptoms, treatment, and management.
Breast pain, aptly known as mastalgia, is common among women at some point in their lives. And though such symptoms may be problematic and lead to breast cancer concerns, that’s usually not the cause. You and your healthcare provider should jointly assess other potential causes; for instance, if you experience a lump or mass in the breast tissue, any unusual nipple discharge, or inflammation. By ruling out these conditions together, we can work towards finding an effective treatment plan for better health outcomes.
If you feel pain radiating from one area of your breast, having an ultrasound for further investigation is beneficial. Frequently, benign conditions such as fibrocystic changes or a solitary cyst are responsible for this sensation; however, in some cases, there may be no definitive explanation.
Types of breast pain
Generally, mastalgia can be classified as either:
Cyclic breast pain: Cyclic mastalgia affects women in their 20s, 30s, or 40s while still menstruating. This pain occurs toward the end of the menstrual cycle, in a week or so, before you get your period. The breasts are often painful, tender, and swollen at this time, but symptoms improve at other points in the cycle. The pain usually affects the outer and upper parts of both breasts, and it might also involve your underarm area. Most cases of mastalgia are cyclic.
Noncyclic breast pain: This type of pain doesn’t bear any relation to the patterns of your menstrual cycle. It often feels like a sharpness, burning, or soreness in one area (or areas) of the breast instead of a generalized feeling of pain and tenderness. This type of mastalgia is more common after menopause. The pain may be constant, or it can come and go. A common cause is costochondritis, or inflammation of the bone’s junction and the rib cage’s cartilage portion, which can be treated with anti-inflammatory medication like ibuprofen (brand names: Advil, Motrin).
Tell your doctor about your symptoms, whether they worsen or improve at different times of the month, and how they affect your quality of life. You can keep a daily pain journal to record when you’re having pain and how severe it is. Tell your doctor about any medications that you use. Birth control pills, infertility medications, and hormone replacement therapies can cause breast pain, as can certain antidepressants.
What Causes Burning Pain in the Breasts?
One of the most common causes of breast pain is usually related to a hormone imbalance or breast sensitivity. Changes in hormones such as estrogen and progesterone can lead to increased sensitivity of breast tissue and a feeling of burning pain. Other medical conditions, such as mastitis and cysts, may also cause breast-related burning discomfort, so it’s important to always consult with your doctor if you’re experiencing persistent symptoms.
Identifying Onset Symptoms and Risk Factors
Burning pain in the breasts typically progresses slowly over time, but some warning signs should alert you to seek medical attention immediately.
- The pain comes cyclically, just like the menstrual cycle.
- The breasts may become tender.
- Patients describe the pain as a heavy, dull ache. Some women describe it as soreness with heaviness, while others say it is like a stabbing or burning pain.
- The breasts may swell.
- The breasts may become lumpy (not with a single, hard lump).
- Both breasts are typically affected especially the upper and outer portions.
- The pain can spread to the underarm.
- Pain becomes more intense a few days before a period begins. In some cases, pain may start a couple of weeks before menstruation.
- It is more likely to affect younger women. Postmenopausal women may experience similar pains if they are on HRT (hormone replacement therapy).
Symptoms of non-cyclical breast pain
- It affects just one breast, usually just within a small section of the breast, but may spread across the chest.
- It is common among postmenopausal women.
- The pain does not come and go in a menstrual cycle time loop.
- The pain may be continuous or sporadic.
- Mastitis – if an infection causes pain within the breast, the woman may have a fever, feel ill (malaise), some breast swelling and tenderness, and the painful area may feel warm. There may be redness. The pain is usually described as a burning sensation. For lactating mothers, the pain is more intense while breastfeeding.
- Extramammary breast pain – one that feels as if the source is within the breast, but it is elsewhere. Sometimes called “referred pain.” This may occur in some chest wall syndromes, such as costochondritis (inflammation where the rib and the cartilage meet).
These include sudden extreme pain or tenderness, changes in skin inflammation or redness, unexplained lumps or bumps on the breast/s, and any type of fluid discharge from your nipples. In addition, certain lifestyle factors can increase your risk of experiencing burning pain in the breasts, such as smoking and excessive alcohol consumption, being overweight or obese, having large breasts due to a hormone imbalance or genetics, etc.
Diagnosing breast pain
If a woman is pre-menopausal, the doctor will try to determine whether the breast pain might be cyclical.
The doctor will probably ask:
- How much caffeine she consumes.
- Where within the breasts the pain is.
- Whether both breasts are painful.
- Whether she is a smoker.
- Whether she is on any medication or the combined contraceptive pill.
- Whether she might be pregnant.
- Whether there are any other symptoms, such as nipple discharge or a lump.
The doctor will listen to the patient’s lungs and heart and also check her chest and abdomen to rule out other possible conditions and illnesses.
The doctor may also conduct a clinical breast exam to determine whether there are any lumps, changes in nipple appearance, or nipple discharge. The lymph nodes in the lower neck and armpit will also be checked to determine whether they are swollen or tender to the touch.
If a breast lump or unusual thickening of an area of tissue is detected, or a specific area of breast tissue is particularly painful, the doctor may order further tests:
- Mammogram — an X-ray exam of the breast.
- Ultrasound scan — sound waves produce images of the breasts. Even if the mammography does not detect anything, an ultrasound scan is usually done as well.
- Breast biopsy — if anything suspicious is detected, the doctor will surgically remove a small sample of breast tissue and send it to the laboratory for analysis.
The patient may be asked to complete a breast pain chart, which can be used to confirm the diagnosis and help the doctor decide on the best therapy.
Treatment Options Available
Depending on what exactly is causing your breast-related burning sensation, there are various treatment options available to address the issue. Your doctor may recommend anti-inflammatory medications to reduce breast inflammation and tenderness, hormone therapy such as oral contraceptives, and other medications that target specific breeds disorders like mastitis, etc. You may also need additional treatments like X-rays and mammograms to assess any underlying issues causing your symptoms properly. Additionally, lifestyle changes like increasing exercise/working out regularly could help reduce stress levels which could at least minimize any painful sensations caused by hormonal imbalances or overloads.
Complications of breast pain
Because there are so many potential reasons for breast tenderness, complications depend on the specific causes. In many cases, there are no complications.
When to see a doctor
You should see your doctor if:
- One or both breasts change in size or shape.
- There is a discharge from either nipple.
- There is a rash around the nipple.
- There is a dimpling on the skin of the breasts.
- You feel a lump or swelling in one of your armpits.
- You feel pain in your armpits or breast that is not related to your menstrual cycle.
- You notice a change in how your nipple looks.
- You notice an area of thickened tissue or a lump in your breast
While burning pain in the breasts can be scary and uncomfortable at times – don’t forget that many other women experience this symptom too! Make sure you keep consulting regularly with your healthcare provider about your condition so that together you can come up with effective strategies for managing it correctly long-term.